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Jaguars holding on tight to division title


They are the two-time defending AFC Central Division champions, but a lot of preseason predictions put the Jaguars as low as third place in the division. Clearly, the Jaguars are not getting the respect they did a year ago, largely the result of having lost to the Tennessee Titans three times last season.

Enter the Baltimore Ravens, the hot new contender in the AFC Central. This Sunday, the Ravens will host the Jaguars in a game that will produce the early-season division leader, and could further drop the Jaguars' stock and hike the Ravens'. That's the Baltimore perspective.

Then there's the Jaguars' viewpoint: They will remain the division champions until someone takes that away from them.

"We're the division champs. You can take away from us whatever else you want to take away, but you can't take that away from us," coach Tom Coughlin said today, before taking his team out into the rain for the second day of its preparation for Sunday's game in Baltimore.

The Jaguars will almost certainly be without the services of running back Fred Taylor Sunday. Stacey Mack, who was the starter in the season-opener, is unlikely to be much of a factor.

Mack, who suffered a sprained ankle in the second half of the Jaguars' win in Cleveland, auditioned for Coughlin in today's practice. "Stacey Mack will be out there today and we'll see how he goes," Coughlin said.

Against the Ravens' vaunted defense, the Jaguars are likely to have Chris Howard at running back, and he'll be backed up by fullback Daimon Shelton and rookie running back Shyrone Stith. "He's got to be ready to go," Coughlin said of Stith.

Despite their injuries, the Jaguars are not backing down from the Ravens; at least, not in the war of pregame words, which have been saltier than would be expected for week two of the season. Of course, it must be remembered that the Jaguars have never lost to the Ravens, and the Jaguars have become the Ravens' greatest source of frustration and obsession.

"We have confidence. We've been in tough situations before and we know what it takes to win," offensive tackle Tony Boselli said. "We're going to do whatever it takes to win. If it takes throwing it, we'll throw it," he added.

The Ravens haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher since late in the 1998 season, and logic would dictate that without Taylor the Jaguars are unlikely to make much yardage on the ground this Sunday. That clearly puts the pressure on quarterback Mark Brunell, and the ability of his offensive line to provide pass-protection against middle linebacker Ray Lewis, outside linebacker Peter Boulware, defensive end Mike McCrary and company.

"The thing that separates him from other guys is his attitude. He'll crawl, scratch, do whatever it takes to get to the quarterback," Boselli said of McCrary. "They made great moves in the offseason," Boselli added of the Ravens.

It was on the strength of those offseason roster additions that the Ravens' stock rose sharply; above the Jaguars'. Now, it's proving time.

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